Cynthia Lee Macdonald was born in New York City in 1928 to Leonard Lee and Dorothy Kiam Lee. Significantly, her younger sister Virginia, to whom Cynthia was very close in age, died of scarlet fever at 5 or 6 years old. Macdonald’s parents divorced in 1940 and both eventually remarried. Leonard, a Hollywood scriptwriter for movies and television, lived in Los Angeles, while Dorothy returned to New York; Macdonald spent time on both coasts throughout her childhood and teen years.
Macdonald earned her Bachelor’s degree from Bennington College in Vermont in 1950. She married E.C. Macdonald in 1954 and had two children, Jennifer and Scott. Her budding career as an opera singer gave way to her poetry writing, prompting her enrollment at Sarah Lawrence College in New York to earn her Master’s degree in writing in 1970.
A career as a writing teacher soon followed. After teaching first at Sarah Lawrence College, then at Johns Hopkins University, she co-founded with Stanley Plumly the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston in 1979. She taught at UH until her retirement in the mid-2000s, receiving the Esther Farfel Award for faculty excellence along the way.
Macdonald became a widely published and award-winning poet. Her first of seven books of poetry, Amputations, was published in 1972, and she had individual poems published in dozens and dozens of esteemed magazines and journals such at The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Yale Review. Among the many honors and awards that Macdonald received for her writing were a Guggenheim Fellowship and the O.B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize.
Macdonald was also a practicing psychoanalyst for many years, and a faculty member of the Houston-Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute.
Though born in New York, Cynthia Macdonald comes from old Houston stock: Her mother Dorothy was born in Houston in 1906 to Edward Kiam and Fanny Tim Kiam. The Kiam family had been in the city as far back as the mid-to-late 1800s. In 1893, Edward Kiam opened a clothing store in downtown Houston in a five-story brick building that still stands and is still known as “The Kiam Building” at 320 Main Street.